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Transcript of Paul Durcan
Paul Durcan was born in Dublin in 1944. He was the eldest of three children.
His father, John, was a teacher who later became a barrister and then a circuit court judge in the west of Ireland.
Durcan's youth was spent mostly between Mayo and Dublin. He claims relations with John became strained when his father changed from being a humorous man to being a stern, demanding and distant father. Durcan blames this in part on the loneliness of the judicial career.
His relationship with his mother was warmer. Shelia MacBride Durcan came from a family famous for its literary and political heritage.
Major John MacBride, a leader and a martyr of the 1916 Rising, was Paul's granduncle. John MacBride was married to Maud Gonne, a woman loved by WB Yeats.
Durcan began to study Law and Economics at UCD, but at 19years old he was committed by his family to St. John of God psychiatric hospital.
Durcan believes the fact that he didn't conform with his privileged middle class family led them to take this step. He later attended a Harley Street Clinic, where was treated with electroshock and barbiturates, and he claims he narrowly escaped being lobotomised.He was incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. He believes he was not suffering from any mental illness prior to this experience but the treatment left him with recurring depression and a permanent sense of isolation and loneliness.
Durcan spent three years in and out of various mental institutions until he ran away and began to associate with the poet Patrick Kavanagh, who served as a mentor to him.
In 1967 Durcan met Nessa O' Neill, his future wife and they lived in London and raised two daughters.
In 1970 they moved to Cork, where Nessa taught in a prison. Their marriage ended in 1984.
The Difficulty that is Marriage
Alliteration in the opening line, the hard 'd' consonant strikes a note of discord from the outset.
Some confusion is created with the interplay of 'agree' and 'disagree'.
Much of Durcan's work is concerned with the struggle to convey a message from across a vast gulf : a sea; memory and a family member.
The lines in the poem have a paradoxical nature. The poet suffers in the relationship yet feels happy to have found his wife.
The poet seems to suggest that a truly rewarding life is one of struggle and maybe even discord.
The poem is a sonnet. Careful attention needs to be paid to the multi layered meaning of the title of this poem.
Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail
Note the tabloid-style title and the use of first person narration. This creates immediacy and a sense of drama.
In Irish myth, Queen Maeve is depicted as a complex character, forceful and uncompromising. The use of the name for the wife is powerfully symbolic. The violence is humorously echoed in the modern context by her way of taking on her 'rival' for affection and attention, the TV.
Note the irony of the fact that the judge breaks up the family unit himself by removing the wife and mother.
Durcan presents the TV as something that can interfere with real family communication and corrodes the deep ties that form when people play and talk together.
Father's Day, 21 June 1992
This poem shows Durcan as an emotionally complex writer. The poem fuses comedy and wit with genuine poignancy.
The title of this poem is deceptively simple.
The overwhelming responsibility of new parents when faced with a newly born child is explored in this poem.
Like the sleeping wife and fretful husband in The Difficulty that is Marriage, this poem relates a sense of people trying - and failing - to communicate across a mysterious gulf or distance.
Note the use of unexpected reversals in the viewpoints expressed in the poem (parents vs child)
Themes of isolation, anxiety and homelessness are explored in this poem as they are in several other poems.
The poems conveys the intensity of the parents love for their child without ever succumbing to sentimentality.
Note the unusually direct approach in this poem which focuses on a single memory.
The repetition of the words 'Mental Hospital' emphasises the sense stigma Durcan felt at that stage of his life.
The poet's uneasy, detached relationship with his father adds a poignant tone to the poem.
Durcan presents his fellow inmates as being monstrous . This is often how society regards the spectre of mental illness itself - something looming, threatening, dangerous.
The underlying tone of Sport is one of sadness, not only the personal sadness of being seen as a disappointment, but also the general poignant 'spectacle' of mental illness.
'The axe behind the settee' is a significant image, not only for its connection to violence but because it is hidden behind a piece of furniture usually associated with relaxation and calm.
The final image in this poem is that of the poet struggling to come to terms with the breakdown in his marriage and feeling unable to communicate.
Despite moments of brilliant wit, the poem is profoundly sad and disturbing.